Health Notes

And So To Sleep

Face mask on green and pink background

As a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine and co-founder of Pukka Herbs, Sebastian is big on the necessity of getting enough good shut-eye. ‘There are huge levels of stress in society and it’s a big issue for our health. The government lays down guidelines on diet and exercise but the vital third factor is sleep. When we sleep well we can digest our day and process our emotional experiences so we can cope.’

There’s confusion and contradiction with the ‘on-all-the-time’ way we live and work, he says. ‘In today’s society, we’re encouraged to be out there working hard – doing, doing, doing. But we should also be resting and sleeping lots to keep well and fit, physically and psychologically, and our world doesn’t champion that.’ Odd that, as it’s well established that insufficient sleep is linked to a litany of physical and mental health conditions. Recently, a link has been identified between short sleeping and a build up of the beta-amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep is such an individual thing that we need to find our own rhythm: but there are common threads that, woven together, can help us all benefit from the deep comfort of a good night’s sleep.

Like other experts, Sebastian emphasises that we need to prepare for sleep from the start of the day not just at bedtime, if we want to recharge and prevent burn out. Caffeine, for instance, blocks the brain’s ability to use a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which accumulates during the day, making us progressively drowsier and ready to sleep. But that delicious cup of coffee or pot of strong tea has a half-life of six hours and a quarter-life of 12 hours. Do the math…

Here are Sebastian’s top suggestions for sleeping well:

  • Enter the day in a calm, clear space: have a protein breakfast, such as eggs, to keep blood sugar levels steady. In general, avoid high carb/sugar diets, which cause blood sugar levels to spike and send your metabolism haywire, which impacts on sleep.
  • Build in relaxation moments during the day: as above, stretch, meditate, walk and do some yoga; listen to music; look at clouds… We forget how to relax and need to practice just as we do with exercise or playing an instrument.
  • Slot back into the rhythms of nature: getting outside in natural light as soon as you can in the morning helps your brain go into wakeful mode. Equally, avoid bright light in the evenings to enable your brain to trigger the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Switch off your email and your brain in good time: whether or not blue light from screens is a factor – and this is a warm topic just now – reading and responding to emails is not relaxing. For most people, seven pm is quite late enough. Writing a To Do list for the next day can be calming.
  • Practise being totally in the flow of the present moment: one of the easiest ways is deep belly breathing. Switch your mind’s eye to your tummy button, put one hand over your tummy, then breathe deeply in and down, feeling your belly swell as you count to four. Hold the breath lightly for a count of seven, then exhale slowly for eight. Repeat. This is also brilliant if you wake up in the night, especially if you have racing brain.
  • Harness the power of lavender: smell has massive power and this fragrant herb triggers a cascade of relaxing responses in the brain. Try lavender oil on pulse points and/or pillow spray. Lavender oil in capsules (Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules) has been shown to help symptoms of mild anxiety, stress and nervousness.
  • Consider taking supplements: an adaptogen such as ashwagandha at breakfast time gives you controlled energy and allows your system to adapt to fluctuations of stress hormones so you get less wound up. (Pukka Herbs Wholistic Ashwagandha)
  • Vitamin D levels are generally low, especially in winter, and among other vital roles it can help support your nervous system. (BetterYou DLux 3000 spray)
  • Taken early in the day, Vitamin B Complex can help your energy levels, brain function and cell metabolism. (Higher Nature B-Vital)
  • Magnesium at night helps your muscles relax. (Try NeuroMag)
  • I swear by Pukka Night Time Capsules, which contain valerian and ashwagandha, to calm my mind and body. And a cup of Night Time tea after supper.
  • Have a light evening meal early: eating heavy or rich food late can keep your digestion far too busy for sleep, which in turn is likely to disturb your slumbers. Fresh, warm, soupy food is good for the evening, not too spicy or stimulating. Try grains, legumes (aka pulses) such as chickpeas and lentils, vegetables and a little protein with flavourings such as ginger, fennel and cumin.
  • Be content to sleep in chunks; we expect to slumber through the night but until recently people would go to bed around sunset, sleep for a few hours then get up for an hour or so telling stories, making love, whatever – before they went back to sleep until the dawn.

How to Win the ‘Bug Wars’ and Transform Your Health


Forget your genes, which you can’t influence, says cardiologist Dr Steven Gundry, and focus instead on the trillions of bacteria in your body, which you can recruit as your best health buddies from today on.

Some two decades back, eminent cardiologist and heart surgeon Dr Steven Gundry was obese. He suffered with daily migraines and, although only in his forties, he had such bad arthritis he wore braces on his knees to run. Despite the pain, he ran 30 miles a week, did a daily stint in the gym and ate what he‘d been taught was a healthy diet.

But it was all to no avail. He blamed ‘bad genes’, believing he was destined to be ‘fat and sick’ like his father.

At that point Dr Gundry’s ‘world was rocked’, as he wrote in a recent email to Sarah. He discovered that, ‘to put it bluntly, I had been dead wrong. I met a patient called “Big Ed” who had reversed his inoperable coronary artery blockages by changing his diet and taking supplements he bought in a health food store.’

This top heart surgeon was so impressed that he changed his diet, started taking different supplements and wrote a Yale University Thesis about it. And the obese cardiologist lost 50 lbs in the first year and then another 20. ‘I have kept off those 70 lbs for 20 years now,’ he says.

Over the last half of the 20th century, mapping the human genome was believed to be the open sesame to treating disease of all kinds. But, as Dr Gundry discovered from a growing volume of research, there has been a paradigm shift in scientific thinking. ‘The answer to living and ageing well lies in the trillions of bacteria in our bodies.’

Over the last 20 years, Dr Gundry has published papers showing that ‘most chronic diseases begin with a leaky gut and can be cured by eliminating certain foods in our diet, plus lifestyle choices’.

His recent best-selling book The Longevity Paradox delves deep into the role of these evolutionary organisms. Dr Gundry quotes a paper published in the leading science journal Nature in 2018, which supports his contention that gut bacteria directly influence the state of health of every part of your body, from your skin to your hormones to your cellular energy levels.

More than that, the state of your gut bugs plays a huge role in helping to defend you against the diseases of ageing, from neuro-inflammatory conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, to heart disease and cancer. Keeping your gut bugs happy can also reduce the symptoms of arthritis and other joint aches and pains.

This list is literally endless,’ says Dr Gundry. ‘I am continually amazed at what can be changed with diet and lifestyle choices.’ 

What’s also recognised today is the information superhighway between the gut and the brain (the gut/brain axis). The gut is often called our second brain but, according to Dr Gundry, it’s really the one in charge. So problems affecting our minds are often responding to the state of our gut bugs. Dr Gundry explains that ‘There is now increasing evidence that anxiety and depression are driven by an altered microbiome, so we see a lot of reversal of these conditions [ie anxiety and depression] as well.’ 

I wrote about other pioneers in this exciting scientific arena recently, here.

According to psychiatrist and leading researcher Professor Ted Dinan of University College Cork, ‘we are witnessing a paradigm shift in neuroscience that could revolutionise the way we prevent and treat mental health problems and neuropsychiatric conditions’. Professor Dinan’s work centres on how these ‘moody microbes’ influence depression and other stress-related disorders.

Getting your gut bugs balanced also seems to balance people’s weight issues. ‘Weight loss is a pleasant side effect of this program but, equally, chronically underweight patients gain weight and energy,’ says Dr Gundry. Sleep apnoea, which is strongly linked to overweight and obesity, usually reverses, he says.

Dr Gundry has seen the effect in his close family. ‘About a year and a half ago, I asked my oldest daughter and her husband to change their diet, not for me but for the future of my young grandchildren. Wow, did that work! They each lost over 50 pounds and my daughter’s chronic headaches and depression cleared. The kids are thriving as well.’

How to look after your gut

There are two priorities in looking after your gut bacteria. First, keep the good bugs happy and get rid of the bad ones. And second, keep the gut lining strong so the bugs stay in their place. Leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability), where the bad bugs get into the bloodstream and whiz around your body creating havoc, is at the heart of most of the common diseases of ageing, says Dr Gundry.

The most important nutrients are prebiotics. These are the fibres and sugars that feed the good gut bugs. So, feast on great sources of prebiotics such as radicchio, chicory, Belgian endive (a close relation to chicory), garlic, yams (sweet potatoes), onions of all kinds, leeks, Savoy cabbage, apples, Jerusalem artichokes, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soy beans, bananas, watermelon, grapefruit, ground flaxseed, almonds and pistachios. Also consider a supplement of inulin such as Lepicol.

Eat lots of greens and avocadoes, limit animal protein and use lots of olive oil on everything. ‘The only purpose of food is to get olive oil in your mouth’ is Dr Gundry’s favourite saying.

Treat yourself to very dark chocolate and good black coffee. They’re full of polyphenols – micronutrients found in certain plants that are full of antioxidants with all the health benefits those bring.

Say goodbye to all grains except millet and sorghum. In general avoid gluten free products as they tend to have more sugar.

Limit fruit, also fruit juices and smoothies (particularly from children) because of the amount of sugar they contain. Compare an apple and a glass of apple juice. The whole fruit will take you five to ten minutes to eat and contains valuable fibre as well as nutrients. A glass of apple juice is gone in a trice, contains sugar from about four/five apples and no fibre.

Choose organic vegetables and foods as much as possible to limit your exposure to glyphosate. ‘This herbicide is massively destroying our gut and our microbiome,’ warns Dr Gundry.

Space your meals. Dr Gundry is a supporter of time-restricted eating – where you give your body time to recover between its digestive duties. Many experts now recommend a window of 12 hours or more between your last meal in the evening and the first one next day.

Eat your evening meal early. Try to eat your final meal of the day three to four hours before bedtime at least once or twice a week, says Dr Gundry, to allow your brain to ‘wash out’ impurities. (I find eating earlier and lighter makes me sleep much better by the way; high tea anyone?)

Supplement with vitamin D3 and omega-3 essential fatty acids These are the two supplements everyone should take. Pharmacist Shabir Daya recommends BetterYou DLux 3000 spray and Lion Heart Pure Omega 3 Fish Oil.

Dr Gundry also recommends grape seed extract, methylB12 and methylfolate. Shabir suggests Solgar Grape Seed Extract, Jarrow Formulas Methyl B-12 and Solgar Folate.

Supplements for Veganuary

Selection of veg in dirt on grey background

I’m 100 per cent in favour of plant-based diets but it’s indisputable that vegan diets – and some vegetarian ones – can lack essential nutrients including vitamin B12, omega-3 essential fatty acids, iodine, selenium, iron and also vitamin D (although most people, vegan or not, have sub-optimal levels during the winter).

The Vegan Society has a very useful ‘Nutrition Overview’ section here, with contributions from dietitians.

Cultures such as Indian Jains have consumed a completely vegetarian, non-animal diet for millennia, following their philosophy of non-violence. Jains also avoids root vegetables because of the potential for harming tiny creatures in the soil. It may seem very limited and boring but I had personal experience of this for some time with Jains’ friends and can vouch for its deliciousness and nutritional value. So it’s worth looking online for Jain blogs with recipes.

The Vegan Society offers its own VEG1 supplement. Alternatively, pharmacist Shabir Daya suggests taking BetterYou Vegan Health Daily Oral Spray, which has been formulated to deliver four essential nutrients (B12, D3, iodine and iron) straight into the blood stream, bypassing the gut where they might get lost. £14.95 for 25ml, dose four sprays daily.

Shabir also recommends taking an omega-3 supplement, but beware here as few plant sources provide an efficient means of converting their fatty acids into EPA and DHA, the key omega-3s. However echium seed oil gives vegans a source of Omega-3 that’s as efficient as fish oil. The product is called Echiomega by Igennus, £13.99 for 60 capsules, dose for adults and children over ten is 2-4 capsules daily.

Finally, a note for those who want to follow a gluten-free vegan diet. Many years ago, before I discovered I was sensitive to gluten, I became pretty ill following a vegan diet. Now there is much more knowledge about this problem and many more options, including recipes on BBC Good Food. We still eat a lot of veggie food so I’m off to try the lentil ragu with courgetti.

And the wonderful Jasmine Hemsley ( has a whole section on Diving into Veganuary from last year. Winter Sunset Soup with ginger, cumin and rosemary, anyone?

Dear Readers


Sadly, this is my last column in YOU after more years than I care to count. For family reasons, I am stepping down to have a break. But it’s not goodbye as I will still be contributing regularly to the magazine.

Over the years, your letters, cards, photos and emails have provided the inspiration for the huge range of topics I have delved into. You have trusted me with your concerns and, with the help of leading experts worldwide, I have aimed to respond with the advice I would want for my family and friends.

I have had the privilege of talking to health heroes, including doctors and scientists carrying out pioneering research, natural health experts exploring the potential of traditional medicine, and patients with life-limiting conditions who have found their own ways to live well. Read More…

In Case Of Emergencies

Black and white health case

With schools breaking up shortly, prep for holiday health with the St John Ambulance Universal Plus First Aid Kit – everything you need for common accidents, plus a first aid leaflet, £16.80 from And here are my tried and trusted products for trips near and far:

  • Derma E Hydrating Facial Wipes, £9 for 25: one-stop cleansing and softening wipes, based on plant ingredients; they’re plastic-free and 100 percent compostable with recyclable packaging. Also: Simply Gentle Organic Cotton Buds, £2.25 for 200, with biodegradable stems.
  • Compeed Blister Mix Plasters, £4.39: a must for sore heels, toes or corns. Available nationwide.
  • Sea-Band, £8.74 for a pack of two wristbands to help nausea and vomiting: position the band’s stud on an acupressure point on your inside wrist. For adults and children. Sea-Band Mama! Ginger Lozenges with Folic Acid, £4.60, may help to alleviate morning sickness.
  • Viridian Nutrition Travel Biotic, £24.95 for 30 capsules: contains a probiotic shown to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea and stomach upsets. Take one daily for five days before travelling then during your trip.
  • Dr Scurr’s Zinopin Long Haul, £24.50 for ten capsules (for each return flight): this natural supplement formulated by a consultant surgeon helps reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis and puffy ankles on flights over two hours.
  • De Mamiel Altitude Oil, £28 for 10ml: a blend of antibacterial, antiviral and antiseptic herbs to help clear your head and protect your immune system on germ-friendly planes and public transport.
  • Fire Angel Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarm, £24.99: this portable device detects poisonous gas, which has no smell or taste. Inhaling CO can cause chronic ill health. High levels can be deadly, with deaths from faulty appliances recorded in hotels and rentals. (See for symptoms.)
  • Better You Magnesium Gel, £11.95: fast-acting gel for joint and muscle aches and pains or post-flight stiffness.
  • Terranova Avena Sativa & Tart Cherry, £16.80: natural remedy that may help jet lag, tension and insomnia.
  • iS Clinical Sheald Recovery Balm, £43 for 60ml: brilliant for sunburn – a father whose small son was very sunburnt was astonished at its almost instant calming and healing effect. (If you have nothing else, apply cold milk.)

Being ‘hangry’ – hungry and angry – is a real phenomenon, experts agree.
When blood sugar levels drop, you’re more likely to snap at people. Stress related hormones are released along with neuropeptide Y, a chemical that can make people more aggressive. Nutritionist Ian Marber ( told me many years ago that blood sugar levels start to drop two to three hours after eating, which explained why I would feel faint, shaky and irritable if I didn’t refuel. Ever since then I always carry some nuts in my bag or – a new discovery – a Bounce Protein Energy Ball. These filling, gluten-free, vegetarian bites tide me over nicely. My favourites from the range of 12 are Cacao Mint and Almond, £2 each at Waitrose.

If footwear could win an Oscar, my colleague Rosalind and I would vote for FitFlops, the genius brand pioneered by entrepreneur Marcia Kilgore. Actress Uma Thurman loves them so much she has her own FitFlop Edit, #Forsuperwomen. Like millions of others, we are devotees of these brilliantly designed sandals, shoes and boots, which take you anywhere in style and (hallelujah!) comfort. I wore the Superchic Woven Ballerinas, £90, to a glam dinner and skipped home at the end. Rosalind’s vote goes to the ‘light and airy’ Lulu Mirror Cross Slide Sandals, £59.95. For trotting round town, we’re both wedded to our F-Sporty Uberknit Crystal Sneakers, £89.95 – lace-ups you can pull on. Your feet will thank you.

The Scene

blue fan on wooden desk

A crowded restaurant on a warm evening. The problem: my menopausal friends getting hot and bothered. The solution: FanU, a phone-sized, lightweight portable cool air fan, which Gill Sinclair, joint founder of Victoria Health, pulled triumphantly from her handbag. It’s a must for anyone with hot flushes, due to hormones or chemotherapy, or simply because it’s hot outside (here’s hoping). With a USB and rechargeable battery, £9.99, in white or pink. Read More…